Tuesday, October 30

Film: Bohemian Rhapsody Click for more info

If there's any film that could tell an interesting story it would be the biopic for Freddie Mercury. But unfortunately Bohemian Rhapsody falls a little flat, playing it a bit too safe and keeping things entirely black and white. It's a little disappointing and perhaps even a little too... American.

But the music is present and accounted for, including a full 20 minute recreation of Queen's Live Aid set. So then: for fans of their music, Bohemian Rhapsody is great. But for fans of Freddie Mercury, not so much.

Sunday, October 21

Food: Meathouse Click for more info

With Meathouse, I'm a little torn. I'll start with the easy stuff: service was alright and the cost per head of 13 quid or so (with drinks) was acceptable. No, the thing which is confusing me is the food.

It doesn't help that I didn't get the same burger as everyone else; I went for the chilli burger, waving off any warnings the server was giving me about it being really chilli™. In my head this would be the same as my friend's cheeseburger, just with some kind of hot sauce added, maybe some jalapenos. What I got was both disappointing and enthralling at the same time.

You see, the actual burger was markedly different to that which was in the cheesburger. It was clearly more processed, smaller and a bit of a throwback to the pre-gourmet era. This was the source of disappointment - it's pretty unacceptable, and even embarrassing, for a burger place to have served anything like this really.

The thing is though, that this chilli burger really was chilly. The difference in patty had a real reason behind it, and that was that the meat itself was super hot. I'm talking "one of the hottest burgers I've had" hot. That alone also made it one of the most enjoyable. Based on my own experience it really was a USP.

So yes. Torn. I think on balance I probably wouldn't seek out a reason to visit Meathouse again, but I wouldn't say no.

Wednesday, October 17

Turkey-Iran, Day Twenty-Two: From Mashhad To Tehran

I aborted my plan to catch up on some well earned sleep while my friend revisited the shrine for another pilgrimage, and instead followed in his footsteps - except instead of heading to the shrine itself I diverted to the museums enclosed in the complex. It was a decent enough way to spend some time and definitely value for money. It was also the most eclectic collection of items I've had the pleasure of visiting, one which consisted of curios like coins and stamps, to historical religious items (including some of the previous shrines used for Imam Reza), to archaeological pottery and sport and nuclear propaganda and more typical fine art - it even had a sea life exhibit. The effort and love put into the collection was admirable, but I couldn't help but think what it would have been like with the right resources to back it.

After bidding farewell to the shrine and its complex for the last time, I swung by the Bazaar Reza, whose unique selling point was its layout - a single 800m stretch of shops and stalls that you can't help but walk the length of.

And with that, our time in Mashhad had come to an end. Less than 24 hours after we had landed, we were back at the airport to catch our flight to Tehran.

The whole risk with the Mashhad plan was sacrificing our time in Tehran - it meant that we had no nights to spend there and since we were landing around 2pm pretty much just half a day to explore the capital. That said, our flight was late that night (or more correctly, early the next day), and after checking out the things we wanted to do in deciding the Mashhad plan we were confident we would cover the main things. Truthfully though I suspect we were well travelled out and by that point didn't really mind missing out on a few things at this point of the trip - especially after the win that was Mashhad.

The first casualty of our ambitious schedule was Golestan Palace, which had already admitted its last entries five minutes before we reached there. The Grand Bazaar was a bit of a washout too, and not a patch on those we had seen during our travels. At this point we were struggling a bit to fill the day - lest our time in Tehran become a glorified transit.

We decided to check out the Milad Tower and reached there just as the sun was going down. The view was just about worth it, with our birds-eye view confirming what we had heard about the horrendous Tehrani traffic.

We did think about heading to the Water and Fire park but faced with the aforementioned horrendous traffic, by that point we were well and truly spent and even unenthusiastic about more tourism. Instead we made the more appropriate decision to spend a few hours in Football House to watch the Iran vs Bolivia match. It was a great place to chill and gave an insight (cough) to Tehrani culture that we didn't see on the tourist trail.

By that point we knew we were done. The only thing left was to grab dinner. We picked Burger Zoghali, enjoyed some decent food and then headed to the airport for our AM flight home.

And that was it. Twenty two days, three countries, thirteen towns and cities and almost fifty mosques and shrines later and I was heading home. I've been lucky to have been on some epic trips but my tour of Turkey and Iran (via Baku) was special for a variety of reasons: from the historical baggage of a cancelled trip, to the range of things I saw and did, to having different company in each leg. It was always going to be an ambitious journey but I think I managed to just about pull it off and can only think of a few things I would have done differently, while at the same time the list of things that went far beyond expectations is pretty long. The synergy between the different countries and towns only served to enhance one another - each of the countries I visited just wouldn't have been the same on their own.

But for now, I'm looking to go home. Twenty two days is well past my limit... and that's especially in the context of the imminent travel to come.

Monday, October 15

Turkey-Iran, Day Twenty-One: From Shiraz To Mashhad

One of the most recognisable views in Shiraz is that of the sun streaking through the stained glass windows of Nasir-ol-molk Mosque. Embarrassingly I only realised how time dependant that view was once I went to visit - we arrived at around 8:30am and by the end of our 25 minute stay it was already clear how small a window you would have in getting the desired aesthetic.

Mosque #45: Nasir-Ol-Molk Mosque

The rest of the day was spent mopping up the remainder of Shiraz. This included the historical Qavam and Zinat Al-Molk houses, the Vakil Bazaar and enclosed mosque, a return visit to the Arg of Karim Khan and a stroll through the Eram Garden.

Mosque #46: Vakil Mosque

We were done with Shiraz, so we headed back to the hotel for a brief chill (with Coup of course), before heading to the airport for an unplanned impromptu flight to... Mashhad. Mashhad was never on our itinerary, but it turned out to be important enough religiously for my travel companion to make the attempt to go. The plan would be to spend just the night there, so that he could complete a pilgrimage and since the logistics worked (internal flights are cheap and plentiful) it was a chance to see one of Iran's biggest points of interest that I wasn't about to pass up. I had also realised by this point that time seems to run slowly in Iran and it was possible to pack a lot in. In other words it didn't feel like we'd be missing out on any existing plans by creating the time to fly to the north west.

That point of interest is, of course, the Imam Reza Shrine.

Mosque #47: The Imam Reza Shrine

To describe the shrine as big and impressive would be an understatement. The approach to the site reminded me of how the Haram in Makkah used to be before development - you could almost feel the spirituality as you walk there, and that even before you turn the corner to catch that first sight of one of the gates into the complex. And then once I was in, it was almost to the same scale and ambition as the two holiest sites in Saudi. While my friend performed his rites, I took the opportunity to explore the sprawling campus, getting lost a few times before I managed to map out the various wings and courtyards. Each passage opened up to a new mini world, each of which themselves channeled the various styles of architecture I had seen since my visit to Iran had started.

The shrine itself was as charged and electric as you would imagine, with pilgrims continually paying their respects. It was easy to just get lost in the flow of people, and soon enough I became good at finding the shortcuts and viewpoints from which I could witness the devotion without getting in the way.

It was easily worth the detour and we were crazy to not have included it in the first place.

Sunday, October 14

Turkey-Iran, Day Twenty: The Persian Empire

Another day and another early start - this time to backtrack the way we came in order to pick up what are probably the crown jewels of South-Central Iran, if not the whole country.

Pasargadae is one of those places that you haven't heard of until you actually visit. The main sight is the alleged tomb of Cyrus, although it's said that it's not as authentic as it's said to be. The rest of the complex has more than enough genuine history to make up for any potential false advertising and at the very least a visit to Pasargadae makes for a apt prologue for the day's activities.

Next up we have the Naqsh-e Rustam, or perhaps as it's more likely to be known, the necropolis. A clear step up from Pasargadae in terms of explicit views, this is a compact sight that still packs a punch as you learn about the history of the Persian kings buried there, and even the subsequent Arab rulers who followed. And once again, it serves as an appetiser for what will clearly be the main meal of the day.

For me, Persepolis was one of the clear hits of my trip so far. Nothing did as much to throw us back to the time of the Achaemenids - 500 or so BC - as this ceremonial temple complex did. We spent much more time than we were expecting to just walking around the ruin and hiking up to the elevated tombs on the hillside. Some say you can spend a whole day there soaking it up, but for me even a few hours was more than enough to get the point.

The evening brought us back to Shiraz where we mopped up the twin tombs of Saadi and Hafez, with a bonus stop off at the Ali Ibn Hamza Shrine.

Mosque #44: Ali Ibn Hamza Shrine

We decided to walk back to the hotel ourselves, where we stopped off for some night shots of the Arg of Karim Khan before a well earned dinner.

Saturday, October 13

Turkey-Iran, Day Nineteen: A Swift Yazd

One of the alleged highlights of Yazd is to visit the Zurkhaneh gym to watch some of the wrestlers train. For what might have been the first time this trip (barring perhaps the search for a Sunni Jummah yesterday), a lack of information regarding a niche event in a small town such as Yazd meant we didn't have much to go on. We did find the gym last night, but the only real plan we had was based on rumour. Long story short, we left the hotel after Fajr to see if we could catch a possible morning training session.

There was no show, so this was a pretty bad bet. We took the opportunity to walk around the old town at our leisure, spending some time in the Jameh Mosque while it still empty and cool.

Mosque #42: Jameh Mosque

We were ready to leave Yazd by 9. Unfortunately our driver wasn't ready so we hit the town one more time, even going as far to check out the Water Museum. It was a decent enough timepass, and we left for Shiraz at 1130.

On the way out of Yazd, we spent some time at the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence. These were colossal squat towers built at the top of hills where the recently passed were placed in order to be reclaimed by nature (usually vultures). That alone gave the sight an air of significance, but the Towers more than held their own as places of interest if you were just interested in architecture or physical activity or having access to some decent views. Well recommended.

The drive was long, perhaps our longest, and we finally arrived at out hotel at 8pm, stopping at Abarkooh for lunch and prayer. This was a small random ghost of a town that I believe even our guides hadn't visited, and I'm glad we had a chance to spend some time in a town that wasn't one of the bigger ones.

As it was evening, we didn't have much time to do much so after dinner we visited the nearby, but no less impressive, Shahecheragh Holy Shrine, which was another deceptively small but actually sprawling religious complex that Iran seems to do so well.

Mosque #43: Shahecheragh Holy Shrine

It was also one of the best examples of mirrored decor I had seen since arriving in Iran.

After returning to the hotel we had nothing left to do but to whip out Coup for a few quick rounds. It appears that the game seems to be quite the hit with the locals.

Friday, October 12

Turkey-Iran, Day Eighteen: Jummah

As usual Friday means Jummah. Except today's congregation promised to be less a than usual one for me. But first we had some sights to mop up in Isfahan.

The Vank Armenian Cathedral was a pleasant surprise, yet one which with some thought fit in quite well with what we had seen so far. Despite a diminutive and even boring exterior, the interior was stunning, with European style frescoes and architecture taking the stage.

The cathedral grounds also housed an Armenian museum which had a lot to offer those interested in religious literature or the historical treatment of Armenians of the area.

Which brings us to Jummah. Being in a Muslim country, I automatically assumed that this would just be a matter of procedure, but it turns out that Iran does things a bit differently from other more Sunni dominated countries. Indeed my initial plan was to find a minority Sunni mosque to join for prayers, but despite my tenacity I wasn't able to find any information on where such a place might be. Asking the usual places - the hotel concierge or even our guides - resulted in an inability to even know how to find out, and it almost felt like I was offending in asking. In the UK or even Pakistan one could easily make a few calls to find out this kind of information. At one point I started to believe what I had previously read about how the Sunni minority was treated in Iran.

But it turned out that this wasn't entirely a case of sectarian conflict. After switching our plan and deciding on joining a Shia congregation finding out about where we could do even that was an exercise in rumour and hearsay. There seemed to be a bit of explicit hostility toward religious practise by those who were more secular, and it highlighted a tension I had noticed throughout the trip so far - it's as if the young secularists felt that religion was holding them back. Given the context, I'm not sure if I'm entirely surprised by the push back.

I don't mean to overstate this, and as far as I can tell there was no overt signs of persecution or hate - people generally didn't care. On the other hand they didn't seem to want to progress either and it resulted in a strikingly non-cohesive and non-diverse society. I always say how enlightening attending Jummah is in finding out about a local Muslim society and my experience here didn't disappoint.

Mosque #41: Musallah of Isfahan

The difficulty we had in finding the Musallah of Isfahan was particularly surprising once we found the place. Since Iranian custom discourages multiple congregations in the same locality, most cities have one or two Musallahs - vast halls used just for Jummah congregations. The Musallah we visited was huge and impressive, although it was disappointing to see it only a quarter full. The Khutba and prayer itself were interesting to partake in; it was like a Sunni prayer but with a few striking differences.

After Jummah, we made a beeline to Yazd where we visited the Yazd Atash Behram (the main Zoroastrian temple in Yazd) and the Dowlat Abad Garden as well as a quick look at the Amir Chakhmagh Complex closer to our hotel.

At night we settled in to play a couple of rounds of Coup. Given the peculiar and possibly insular social culture here I wondered if that was the first game to be played ever in Yazd?

Thursday, October 11

Turkey-Iran, Day Seventeen: Isfahan

As our hotel was is a decent location we decided to dismiss the tour guides for the day and set out to as much of Isfahan as we could by foot. Due to the sheer number of things we wanted to see here it was the most efficient way of getting it done. In other words, it was yet another tourist blitz we were going to do on a city.

The main centre of sights is the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, well worth seeing even if you weren't interested in the many other sights it contained. For example on the west we had the Ali Qapu Palace (the most interesting in which are the music rooms on the top most floor), while on the east and south of the square we had two mosques of varying sizes and architecture.

Mosque #35: Abbasi Great Mosque

The larger of the two mosques was laid out in the typical fashion - its own courtyard, with various wings and large domes. The Abbasi Great Mosque felt almost tardis-like in its deceptively small size - particulalry given the stature of its entrance from the square.

Mosque #36: Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque

The second mosque was much smaller and only really consisted of a domed hall (although there was a basement which I'm assuming made up for the size difference. It could have been the smaller size that allowed the mosque to be decorated and maintained to such an impressive standard.

Next we saw the two palaces of Chehel Sotoon and Hasht Behesht, the former of which was just about more interesting. Containing lots of frescoes and paintings, it was almost European in style and definitely in contrast to the places of worship from before.

Passing by the Grand Bazaar, we reached our third mosque of the morning.

Mosque #37: Hakim Mosque

Although less ambitious in stature (and decoration) than the two mosques on Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Hakim was nevertheless impressive not least due to its relative isolation and spaciousness.

After rejoining our guides, lunch was equally tourtastic with us enjoying a Beryani at Haaj Mahmoud Shefa'at. With not a single grain of rice in sight, it was unlike any biryani I've ever had. It was pretty good though!

After lunch we were back on the tourist trail. The main ticket to the north of Naqsh-e Jahan was the Jameh Mosque and adjoining Majlesi Shrine.

Mosque #38: Jameh Mosque
Mosque #39: Majlesi Shrine

It was unclear if this was still a functioning mosque - it certainly didn't seem so, but our guides did suggest that it was only used for Jummah prayer. That would certainly explain its size anyway.

The rest of the afternoon was spent checking out the Ali Gholi Agha Bathhouse and Seyyed Mosque, the last mosque of six we saw in total today.

Mosque #40: Seyyed Mosque

Another deceptively small mosque, it's well worth hunting this one down as of all the places we visited today this was the quietest and possibly the most peaceful. If you're looking for an intimate place of worship without sacrificing size and scope this is the one to see.

We did try to visit the rocking towers of Monar Jonban but arrived too late - we took our consolation prize of Iranian ice cream instead. We were then dropped off to our final sights for the day - along the river Zayanderud to see the two most famous historical bridges of SioSe Pol and Khajoo.

Quite spectacularly, the river was completely dry - we even walked along the bed at some points between the two bridges. I can only imagine what it would have been like with water actually flowing, but this as an experience in itself was pretty cool - and turned each bridge into hotbeds of socialising and music and fun as locals hung out under the dry arches.

That brought us to dinner, and then to the end of our first day in Isfahan. Even though today was pretty crammed, we still had a few items left to see - but those could wait till tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 10

Turkey-Iran, Day Sixteen: Kashan

We headed out on the tourist trail relatively early, already slightly regretting the ambitious itinerary we had set ourselves. On the way to our first proper site we visited a shrine that wasn't really on our list but was a decent bonus with which to start the day.

Mosque #32: Imamzadeh-ye Sultan Mir Ahmad

The bulk of the sights were visiting "historical" houses. This seems to be a bit of a thing here in Kashan, with home owners investing heavily in restoring their ancestral homes for visitors.

Although at first glance they were all a bit samey, looking more closely did reveal unique flavours and characters. In total we visited three houses:

  • Tabatabaee Historical House
  • Abassian Historical House
  • Borujerdiha Historical House

We also paid a visit to the Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse, which sounded more fun than it actually turned out to be. The roof was the best part to see though.

Mosque #33: Agha Bozorg Mosque
Mosque #34: Khaje Taj od-Din

Midday prayers were offered at the Agha Bozorg Mosque, an impressive enough place of worship.

Next door however there was the Khaje Taj od-Din shrine, which was worth a visit just to see a rare pictorial depiction of The Prophet (you should probably close your eyes now if you feel this an inappropriate image to see).

After lunch we spent some time visiting the final sight in Kashan, The Fin Garden. This was pretty impressive from an engineering point of view, with natural water pressure feeding the separate pools and fountains without any pumps.

It was then on to Isfahan. Although we're spending quite a bit of time in a car for this trip, this leg was an example of why road trips can be so awesome. We had some amazing mountain views on the way, all impossible to capture on camera, while for music both The Eagles and George Michael made an appearance. Good times.

Our evening was spent exploring the area local to our hotel by night, checking out trendy eating places and coffee shops. So far Isfahan, and Iran, have really not been what I imagined them to be when it comes to amenities like these.

Tuesday, October 9

Turkey-Iran, Day Fifteen: The Forbidden Land

Of course the subtitle above is meant to be satirical, but I was still surprised at how many raised eyebrows I received when telling others of my plan to travel to Iran. For me it was a no brainer - it has enough historical, cultural and political relevance to top whichever criteria a travel list might use. On the other hand, it does have a reputation of inaccessibility (probably caused both by internal and external forces) and Muslims of the Sunni persuasion seemed to have an even more averse reaction to the Shia majority country. But it was the rapidly changing state of the world (see: Iraq, Syria) and a developing Iranian tourist cottage industry that convinced me to check out the place sooner rather than later. That and a real sense of ignorance about the place - of course it goes without saying that its not the evil place western (and some religious) media tells us it is, but it would have been equally naive to assume it was the complete opposite. I was going in with a blank slate and was prepared to learn a lot.

Once I had decided to go, everything appeared to fall into place relatively quickly. I asked a (Shia) friend who had previously been about visa advice, at which point he decided join me on the trip. I was then introduced to a budding tour operator from Isfahan who arranged almost everything I would need on the the trip, from drivers and local guides to food and most importantly money - there are no international credit cards in use in Iran, and the official government exchange rate forces a visitor to use the black market if they want any kind of value from their foreign currency. Speaking of which, as the rate was so much in our favour the whole trip promised to be great value so that was a bonus.

The only real downside to the trip was its length. The eight days in total that we had was limiting, and as I always plan "as if it's my last trip" the itinerary we ended up with seemed pretty ambitious on paper. My friend had as much energy and drive as I did so it had a real chance of working out.

The first surprise of the trip was at the airport. We were past immigration and with our luggage within 15 minutes of landing, which was pretty efficient for a xenophobic and watchful regime. Although we had landed in Tehran, the plan was to head south from the airport (as it was itself south of the city) and hit the road. And so our first stop in Iran was actually Qom.

Qom is significant in being the global centre of Shia academic study but for passer-bys the main attraction is the Haram in the centre. Here we found the Holy Shrine of Fatemeh Maasoume as well as the Imam Hasan Askari Mosque, our first glimpse at Persian-Shia religious architectural styles.

I've opted to include shrines in my rolling list of sites as in Iran they appear to serve as much as a place of worship as mosques do.

Mosque #29: Fatemeh Maasoume Shrine
Mosque #30: Imam Hasan Askari Mosque

After a quick walk through the Qom historical bazaar and drive by the Gonbad Sabz Garden (which was closed) we headed south to the Jamkaran Mosque. This is said to be the place Imam Mahdi anonymously visits every Tuesday evening, bringing huge crowds with him. Although today was Tuesday our schedule didn't permit us to stay too long, but although we didn't get to experience that particular audience the mosque itself was impressive enough for the visit.

Mosque #31: Jamkaran Mosque

We then made a beeline to our next city, Kashan, where we were to spend the night. Before heading for dinner and then bed, we visited the historical bazaar here too - it was the same as Qom's but different, a feeling we were to see elsewhere in city planning and character. Although we were a fair few leagues off I was beginning to channel Aladdin, Prince of Persia and the like.

The second surprise of the day was the thunder and lightning we witnessed that evening.

Monday, October 8

Turkey-Iran, Day Fourteen: Day Tripping

A common way to spend a day in Baku is to join an excursion to the few out of town sights that the region has to offer. We kept today (which was pretty much our last day here) for this purpose and joined TesTour on such a tour.

We started with the Mud Volcanoes which was definitely novel but definitely not as thrilling as the marketing suggested. Caused by escaping gas, there is potential for things to get hairy so we may have just arrived on an uneventful day. Still, the landscape was pretty alien and it was fun to literally mess around in mud for half an hour.

The next stop was at the Gobustan National Park, where the main sights were cave paintings and dwellings dating back 5,000-20,000 years. Apart from these the park also offered a decent view of some of the oil towns and infrastructure of Azerbaijan.

The next stop was Ateshgah, a Zoroastrian fire temple that until relatively recently had a naturally burning altar that was continuously lit. Although the flame is still present, it's now supplied via pipeline, which is a bit of a shame. The educational rooms were interesting enough and gave a good background on how and when the temple was built, as well as some its the wider social implications, not always religious.

The final stop was at Yanardag, a burning mountain which unlike Ateshgah was still burning a natural source. That said it was probably the least interesting sight on the itinerary today - it turns out that just because something is on fire doesn't make it exciting.

After returning to Baku, we spent the remainder of the day mopping up the various mosques and shrines that we missed out on yesterday.

Mosque #25: Heydar Mosque

Architecturally the most impressive was the Heydar Mosque, which holds both congregational and governmental religious roles. Unfortunately although the basement was naturally open for prayer, the main building proper was closed at the time we visited so we only managed to check it from the outside.

Mosque #26: Sultanbey Mosque
Mosque #27: Teze Pir
Mosque #28: Bibiheybet

The remaining three places of worship were all very different in ages and architecture, but all three were worth a visit - Teze Pir was the only one that was closed completely which was unfortunate as it appeared to be the most grand.

It was quite late by this point, so the remainder of the night was spent walking along the promenade and streets of Baku, trying to soak up more of the vibe we had enjoyed since arriving.

Sunday, October 7

Turkey-Iran, Day Thirteen: Baku

Once again today was all about efficiency. The plan was to spend the whole day exploring the city and all it had to offer. Most of it was to be done on foot, which made the location we were staying in a godsend - most things were within walking distance of the apartment.

The first stop was Freedom Square where we happened upon some kind of car racing filming (exciting!). Otherwise the square was pretty dead - except for the Caspian Sea, the volatility of which was fascinating to watch. We then went on to spend some quality time in the H.Z. Taghiyev History Museum. Taghiyev was a millionaire magnate who apparently did a lot for his country; it was a common sight in Azerbaijan to have these kind of celebrations of an individual's accomplishments (see Heydar Aliyev, later). Still, the museum was better than expected and should definitely be on any list of things to do in Baku.

By now we started getting our bearings in Baku, and not just geographically. It really is an unusual city - its claims of being European pan out but its also clearly of a Islamic culture, despite there not being much evidence of regular widespread practice (this is changing apparently). It's certainly the only place I've visited where a woman in a knee high server's uniform would greet you with a salaam. Add to that that its not an Arab place and it just becomes another wonderful example of how diverse Islam actually is once you leave the status quo.

We then jumped on a metro to the Heydar Aliyev Centre. Again a decent place to check out, in spite of its out of the way location.

Our entrance ticket allowed us to multiple sub-museums and exhibitions, some of which were quite random. Heydar Aliyev himself had a permanent station dedicated to his life, but surprisingly most curious for me was the an Art Doll exhibition which had a fair range of weird and wonderful dolls on display.

After a MacDonald's lunch (for shame) we headed back west to spend the remainder of the daylight in Icharishahar, or Old City. You could actually spend a whole day just here, checking out sights such as the Maiden Tower, Mosque Cuma and even a Museum of Miniature Books.

Mosque #22: Baylar Mosque
Mosque #23: Mosque Cuma

But the real gem was the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, a complex which kind of distilled the whole of the Old City into a single attraction.

It was now closing time for most attractions, which wasn't a big deal since the remainder of our itinerary was set outdoors, specifically in Upland Park. Offering great views and a couple of sights (including a mosque), it was well worth the trek up (the funicular appeared to have been out of commission for a while).

Mosque #24: Memorial Mosque

And that was pretty much the end of the day. After checking out some closer views of the Flame Towers (as well as trying, unsuccessfully, to get to the top of one) we headed to Sumakh for a fancy dinner, where our plan to try some caviar was scuppered once we saw the price of it.

Saturday, October 6

Turkey-Iran, Day Twelve: In Transit

Considering its distance from Istanbul, getting to Sabiha Gochen was quite easy. Unlike Ataturk, Sabiha is only served via bus, but once you know which to get the service is efficient (and cheap!) enough to be a pleasant experience.

A short flight later and I was in Baku, Azerbaijan.

It was meeting an Azeri friend in my last workplace which convinced me to try a country I had otherwise never really had an interest in seeing. It also made a convenient enough place for my travelling companion for the next week or so and I to meet and ease into the Iran leg proper, while also acting as a bonus place to check out while in the area.

Unfortunately for whatever reason it was quite the hassle getting into our accommodation situated on Nizami Street - that killed a fair few daylight hours which was annoying. Still, we managed to salvage the evening as we spent it walking around Fountain Square and the along the Promenade - constantly reminding ourselves that we were looking at the Caspian Sea and not the open ocean. It's a fascinating sight to experience.

So far our impressions were very positive and I'm looking very much forward to the next couple of days here.

Turkey-Iran, Day Eleven: A Final Day Of Dossing

As can often be the case on the day of Jummah, today was mainly anchored around the Friday Prayer. After visiting the offices of TRT (where most of the locals that we know work) we headed to the Suleymaniye for the congregation.

Post prayer lunch was the simple bean dish Kuru Fasulye after which we dossed around the Grand Bazaar area until regrouping with the others for a final hang out and dessert.

Compared to my previous days here it was a simple and straightforward and stress free day - which was pretty perfect as it was also my last.